08 Oct 2011by Georgie Cousens

Chart and graphs in presentation design

It’s inevitable… no matter how sleek and powerful you make your presentation slides, at some point it will be tempting to insert a pie chart or a line graph. The important question to ask yourself before you start plotting your data in Excel is: “Why?”

Why do you need to use this graphic in your slide deck? The simple answer is – to bring data to life.

Unfortunately, too often graphs and charts are used to confuse the daylights out of your audience! They sit blank-eyed and bewildered as you walk them through what is essentially a graphic representation that helped you better understand your own subject matter.

Take this frightful slide that Seth Godin describes as the Worst PowerPoint Slide Ever Used by a CEO. Looks familiar – you’ve probably seen many variations of this slide yourself.


[insert slide]


Here’s another one that was used in the US Military last year to describe the situation in Afghanistan.


[insert slide]




In the best presentation design, charts and graphs are used very rarely, and always with maximum impact. Here are a few pointers:


  • Don’t use more than four colours per visual. While it’s okay to use bright colours, avoid neon greens and yellows as these translate poorly when projected.
  • Eliminate unnecessary details like gridlines, labels that don’t relate to your point and legends for data points that aren’t relevant. Simpler is better.
  • Don’t use uppercase to label the X and Y axis; it’s impossible to read and makes your eyeballs want to jump out of their sockets.
  • Label it correctly. Instead of saying: “Sales 2009 to 2010”, rather label it “Sales increased in 2010” – this shows your audience what they are looking for.
  • A chart should only make one point (which should be described in the heading). It should not be used as a reference for multiple talking points.
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